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Gone But Not Forgotten



As a betting man, it is difficult time when a familiar trainer ,jockey or horse from the racing faternity passes away.
They bring us so much enjoyment and frustration, but we would not be without them.

Feel free to add more or your own experiences.

There are many to remember, but it was Denys Smith's passing recently that made me think of this.

I have borrow some information from the RP that shows just what a character this chap was.

RIP -Denys.


Grand old man of sport whose grasp of racing remained pin-sharp
By Steve Dennis 12:31pM 15 NOV 2016
Originally published August 2014: Steve Dennis talked beer, whisky and snowploughs with the Grand National winner Denys Smith, who has died aged 92.

SOME trainer, this man. Not only did he train nearly 1,800 winners, he also trained himself. A truly self-made individual, Denys Smith looks out of the window of the house in which he has lived these last six decades, seeing not the lines of new-build houses but the boxes they replaced, with a horse looking out of each one.

This month Smith turned 90, no longer just one of racing's elder statesmen but one of the last remaining links to that foreign country where they did things differently.

He may not stride so confidently around the room as he did in his younger days, but his mind is pin-sharp and his recollection of names and events would delight any archivist. They emerge from him in a relentless flood of stories, the past coming to life in the hands of this practised raconteur.

Where to begin? Is the beginning when Smith left school at 14, the fog of war already coalescing forbiddingly on the horizon? "I got a job within a week as a motor mechanic at a garage in Aycliffe, where I lived," he says. "I earned six shillings a week, had a two-shilling rise the following year and then the war started.

"I came home one evening to find the house being requisitioned for the war effort - all the farms on the estate were in the same boat and we had six weeks to pack up and get out."

While his former home did its bit for the allies, Smith followed suit, quickly finding a new job - "this one was a shilling an hour, talk about a pay rise" - working on tractors and in the middle of a vicious north-eastern winter his role expanded to include the vital task of ensuring munitions workers could get to their factories.

Ploughing through the snow

"We had to keep the roads clear and I did 156 hours in one week snowploughing," he says and although the numbers make one pause the story quickly overtakes any mild mathematical scepticism.

"One night we took four tractors and snowploughs out towards Sedgefield - first one broke down, then another, and by the time we reached Sedgefield station we'd lost them all, the snow had come in behind us and covered everything up again.

"We had to walk home and of course we got lost in the snow and two of the team were old guys with just clogs on their feet. Then someone saw a light and it was an Army hut. We went in and got four pint pots of tea and four big doorsteps of bread and jam to pull ourselves together, then walked the six miles back to Aycliffe.

"It was 5am when we got back and the boss was delighted to see us, thought we were lost forever in a snowdrift. 'Go home and get some sleep' he told us. 'Be back to start again before nine, mind ...'"

Smith grins, gets up, potters out of the room to fetch something. His daughter Susan - secretary at Catterick racecourse - also has a smile on her face. "I've never heard that one before," she says. "I thought I'd heard all his stories but he keeps surprising me."

Our man of surprises emerges from his old office, lined with photographs of horses great and good and also ordinary, clutching a sheaf of papers. The first one in the pile has a photograph of a good-looking fellow sitting in a sulky with reins in his hand and a big grey trotter named Colliers at the other end of them. This is another beginning.

Smith, who got into cattle-dealing after the war, found his calling when he married Jean Richardson, whose father Bert was a great trotting man. Horses were a mystery to Smith, but his father-in-law saw that as no barrier to success.

"I said I'd never even put a bridle on a horse, but he told me that didn't matter and I'd have to learn," he says. He learned fast. "I'd been a decent runner at school, so thought I'd try to train them like I trained myself. At that time I had just the one big field, so that's what I used, going around that time and again."


Red Alligator: Won the 1968 Grand National

Starting out

The exploits of Betty, Colliers and the much-vaunted ex-German Master Richard pushed Smith towards the higher branches of the trotting tree in the mid-1950s, but he lost his appetite for the sport when Master Richard was unfairly disqualified after winning at Musselburgh. He dropped trotting overnight, but by now horses were in his blood and Smithneeded little encouragement to try a different tack.

"I was asked if I wanted to buy a point-to-pointer and that was Owen's Mark," he says. "He was second in a couple of points and the next season a pal of mine said instead of running for £20, I should take out a licence and run for £200. I did and second time out Owen's Mark won at Sedgefield - my first horse, my first winner.

"Sadly, next time out Owen's Mark was killed at Doncaster, but the chap who owned him told me to find him another, so I did, won with it, got an order or two and just went from strength to strength.

"I started here with one box, then went to three, then added another, then a few more, then a few more and, by the time I ran out of room, I had 56 boxes, with 20-odd on another farm over at Shildon.

"I made my own gallops at Shildon, me and another chap cutting through hedges to clear a way. I had a couple of mile-and-a-half gallops going up left and right and later on I put in a six-furlong strip on the Flat for the two-year-olds."

Best of both codes

A GREAT career had begun, one that would soon embrace both codes, something entirely commonplace these days but at that time a groundbreaking initiative. In this respect Smith, never a man to let 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would', carved himself a niche in racing that even Grand National success and its corollary of the trainers' title could not improve upon.

"I was the first to do both, jumps and Flat," says Smith, pride evident in his tone. "I was always told that you could do one or the other, but no-one did both.

"I wanted to do it, no matter what anyone said, so I phoned the Jockey Club and they said there wasn't a rule against it, so if I wanted to go ahead it was all right by them.

"Wouldn't say I preferred one code over the other, treated them both the same. There was one big advantage, though - in those days jumps trainers used to lay off their staff over the summer, but when I went dual-purpose it meant I could keep all my good staff on, in the summer they had a couple of Flat horses, in the winter a couple of jumpers.

"Which is easier, training Flat horses or jump horses? I couldn't tell you - it all came naturally to me."

As did the winners, more than 1,700 of them - "almost 900 on the Flat, a little more than 800 over jumps" - with Smith the first man to train more than 50 winners in consecutive seasons, Flat and jumps. And, of course, one stood out from the rest. Barely 15 years after learning how to put a bridle on a horse, Smith trained Red Alligator to win the Grand National.

Winning the National

Smith produces a photograph of Red Alligator being paraded in front of the town hall in nearby Bishop Auckland, a vast crowd in attendance, Brian Fletcher - normally a fully paid-up member of the Lester Piggott and Ryan Moore school of public indifference - in the saddle with a smile cutting his face in two.

"Red Alligator was a big, lean horse, not a traditional Aintree type and he never had any leg trouble because there was no weight on him. He wouldn't jump post and rails to save his life, but he'd take on a big black hedge all right.

"He could have won three Nationals. In 1967 he got mixed up in the pile-up, and Brian remounted to finish third. He said he would have won. Then he won it in 1968, by 20 lengths, and the Denys Smith at the home where he has lived for the past six decades; (below) Red Alligator wins the 1968 Grand National under jockey Brian Fletcher following year he was brought down when still travelling strongly. His owner had him in a field up the road for years; in the end old age took him. He had a good life."

Smith's local pub is named after his most famous horse; some men may go to the pub to forget, but Smith goes there to remember.

He is in full flow now, the names and anecdotes tumbling over each other, horses such as Coronation Cup third Quayside (his best Flat horse) and his last star Karinga Bay, the brilliant but ill-fated hurdler Dondieu and Cheltenham winner King Cutler, men such as Captain Ryan Price and Sir Noel Murless, and nightclub owner Joe Lisle, whose Sixty Nine (named after his nightclub) won the Great Yorkshire Chase in that championship season.

Then there was Foggy Bell, whose 1969 Lincoln victory provided Smith with another line in the record books. "Only three trainers have won the Spring Double and I'm one of them," he says.

There were regrets along the way, of course. Smith never won the Northumberland Plate and although all trainers can tell sad stories about the loss of this horse or that, the demise of The Grey Bomber was particularly poignant given his immense talent and the one-in-amillion nature of his death. Unbeaten in five starts and favourite for the Triumph Hurdle, he was electrocuted after a storm had blown down cables into a puddle on the path that led to the gallops.

"It was him that was killed because he had to lead the string," says Smith. "He had to be in front, if he wasn't he jig-jogged through the string until he got to the front. It was a terrible job to phone the two owners with the bad news - one phoned back ten minutes later to make sure I wasn't pulling his leg."

THE stories draw slowly to an end, Smith reckoning that his decision to call it quits in 2002 was down to the travelling, too many more miles tacked on to a journey that had already taken him to the top.

Now 90 but for all the world a man at least ten years younger, Smith's grasp of racing is still as strong as ever. There is a stack of Racing Posts on the table, the television flits between the two satellite channels - Smith doesn't miss much, he never did. And although the advancing years have naturally restricted his boundaries, this most convivial man never misses a meeting at Catterick or Sedgefield.

"I used to go to Redcar every time as well, but that's a bit far for me now," he says. "Catterick for the Flat, Sedgefield for the jumps. I like a few drinks, I'm usually in the bar where it's nice and warm - my friends at Catterick like drinking beer and at Sedgefield I meet my whisky friends. Best of both worlds."

Best of both worlds, jumps and Flat; you might say that summed up Smith's career too. Men and women - not just at Catterick and Sedgefield but all over racing - can raise their glasses to this grand old man of the sport.

Grand National-winning trainer Denys Smith dies
By Peter Scargill 4:07PM 14 NOV 2016
DENYS SMITH, trainer of the 1968 Grand National winner Red Alligator, died on Sunday at the age of 92.

From his base in Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham, Smith sent out over 1,600 winners which included Group 1 wins on the Flat with Tudenham and Mandrake Major as well as a string of high-profile jumps victories.

Derek Thompson, who worked as assistant trainer to Smith, said on Monday: "Denys Smith was one of the finest trainers of his generation and I was honoured to have been his assistant trainer. I learned so much from him, as did so many others."

Smith began life as a taxi driver before taking out a licence to train. During his 45-year career he succeeded under both codes and was champion jumps trainer in the 1967-68 season, when Red Alligator provided him with nearly half his title-winning haul.

Approachable and well-respected as well as successful, Smith was honoured at Sedgefield racecourse in January with a special lunch to mark his yet-to-be-bettered total of 145 wins at the track.

'Proper horseman'

His friend Harvey Smith, the husband of trainer Sue Smith, took part in the celebrations at Sedgefield and said: "He was a great friend of mine and I used to call him my dad. He was a lovely old boy and he used to go to Catterick for every meeting and he was there not that long ago.

"He's been a very good man for racing. Everybody loved him and he was down to earth and a tough chap. He was a proper horseman and he came up through the ranks. He was a top man."

Smith's willingness to give people a chance was fondly recalled by trainer Chris Grant, who rode as stable jockey to Smith for a number of years.

He said: "He was a top, top man and he's the reason I'm doing what I'm doing now. I worked for him for a lot of years and he got me going and we had a lot of success together.

"He was a fair man and gave everybody a chance. When you look at his record it's just phenomenal and it's a sad loss for racing."

Smith is survived by his son Richard and daughter Susan, grandchildren Melanie, Caroline, Royce and Richard and three great-grandchildren.
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Geraghty leads tributes
to 'high class' Simonsig

By Cathal Gahan 8:00PM 14 NOV 2016
BARRY GERAGHTY on Monday paid a glowing tribute to Simonsig, who was fatally injured in a fall at Cheltenham on Sunday, describing Ronnie Bartlett's ten-year-old grey as "a really high-class horse".

While there was a feeling of relief mixed with sadness from trainer Nicky Henderson and his team about the retirement of Sprinter Sacre, the void created by the death of dual Cheltenham Festival winner Simonsig left those who knew him best reflecting on what could have been.

"He was high class, a really high-class horse," Geraghty said. "It's a big pity for Ronnie, such a bitter blow. You know it was a hard few years anyway with Simonsig on the sidelines, but then to get him back with a clear run and for that to happen is so sad.

"Nicky and I have been fortunate to have had some fantastic horses over the years, but Simonsig was Ronnie's baby, his real true superstar.

"Sprinter went on to achieve almost everything he should have achieved, whereas with Simon you could only say the opposite. He never got a chance to show his real ability.

"When he won the Arkle he scoped so badly afterwards that a normal horse would have pulled up. To win the Arkle and to be that unwell was a massive performance.

"Nicky was afraid to work him and Sprinter against each other, and that's a measure of how good he was. The year he won the Arkle and Sprinter won the Champion Chase, the biggest concern for me was how we were going to split them."

'Very talented horse'

Point-to-point trainer Ian Ferguson nurtured Simonsig in the early part of his career from his base in Ballymena, County Antrim, winning two point-to-points and the Racing Post Champion Point-to-Point Bumper.

"Simon Tindall bred him and sent him to me and he was always a very talented horse," Ferguson said.

"In fact the first day he ran in a point-to-point, I couldn't believe Chris [Cully] had to give him a smack on the backside to win his race. I think he was a bit starstruck by the whole occasion. The second day he fell and next time out I got Derek O'Connor to ride him and he won like I thought he could.

"Derek got off him and took a minute or two to study things and said 'I think that's one of the nicest horses I've ever ridden'. That will tell you how good he was and he went on to win the Champion Point-to-Point Bumper easily with Chris on board.

"There's no doubt he was the best I've ever trained. Normally I handle stayers, but he had so much speed, and because he was a grey, he had the flash factor about him and the older he got the whiter he got. I've been looking for another one like him since."
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When i recall so many years ago my fascination with betting stables reading of a touch (always after) then progressing via my own effort to sometimes becoming involved with future ones two names stand out Bill Wightman and Denys Smith.If there are gambles to be landed in heaven i can well imagine the pair of them plotting right now.;) Rip guys
My first winning bet as a youngster (a good few years ago) was when I found a fiver on the floor in the bookies across the road from where I worked as an apprentice. I used to pop into the bookies on a dinner time and you had to knock on the little window above a counter to get your bet on. When the window slid up the guy on the other side asked me for my bet. I said "Denys Smiths in the next, it won 9/2 but I had to wait until after racing had finished to get paid. At the time I was on £6 a week so it was a windfall to me.
R. I. P. Denys




Former top rider Mark Birch dies aged 67
By Colin Russell 7:31PM 19 OCT 2016
MARK BIRCH, who was one of the most successful and popular Flat jockeys in the north of his generation died on Wednesday aged 67.

He is be best remembered for his association with the great Sea Pigeon whom he partnered him to win eight races, including two Chester Cups.

Sea Pigeon's trainer Peter Easterby said: "He made Sea Pigeon. The horse was a tearaway when I first got him, but Mark settled him down at home eventually."

Born at Chadderton near Oldham in 1949, Birch began his racing life as a 15-year-old when, after leaving school, he joined Geoffrey Brooke in Newmarket as an apprentice.

Although he stayed with Brooke for more than two years, Birch's career as a jockey did not blossom until he went to complete his apprenticeship with Peter Easterby at Great Habton, near Malton, in the spring of 1968. It was to prove a hugely successful and long-standing association, as when he retired 30 years later Birch was still with the trainer.

Birch's first winner was on Bollin Charlotte at Chester for Easterby in July of 1968 and, curiously, his 1,000th came on her son Bollin Patrick.

Famous association

In the main Birch, who was nicknamed Archie by his fellow riders, was a popular, work-a-day, no-nonsense sort of jockey who rode mainly in the north and Scotland, and had a reputation for honesty and reliability.

Sea Pigeon was better known for his two Champion Hurdle wins, but he was also a smart performer on the Flat and many in the north recall how Birch was adamant that he would win the Chester Cup on him in 1977. He was right, and Birch also partnered him to win the same race the following year.

He also rode him to win two Vaux Gold Tankards at Redcar, a race that at that time was one of the most valuable staying handicaps in Europe, the Director's Trophy at Thirsk, the Bogside Cup and Tennent Trophy at Ayr and the Sam Hall Memorial Handicap at York.


Mark Birch, former top jockey in the north for many years and later assistant to trainer Kevin Ryan, has died at the age of 67.

Birch rode for trainer Peter Easterby for many years, winning the Chester Cup twice on the legendary Sea Pigeon in 1977 and 1978, as well as races such as the Gimcrack Stakes on Sonnen Gold in 1979

Easterby's trainer son Tim said: "Mark passed away this afternoon. It's very sad. He'd been very poorly."

Birch retired from race-riding in 1998 and helped Ryan establish himself as a successful trainer.

Ryan said: "Mark's been with me from the very start. He was a big part of what we've done. It's a very sad day."

Birch, who was 'cock of the north' many times, had his first winner on Bollin Charlotte at Chester in 1968. He began his career with Geoffrey Brooke at Newmarket.

Among other big races he won were the Ebor on Dawn Johnny in 1981, the John Smith's Magnet Cup on Buzzards Bay in 1982 and Tell No Lies in 1992, and the Ebor on Protection Racket in 1981 and the Ayr Gold Cup on Able Albert in 1984.



Adrian Nicholls said "there will only ever be one sprint king" after he announced the death of his father David, who had been battling long-term illness, at the age of 61 on Sunday.

Nicknamed Dandy, Nicholls rode more than 400 winners as a jockey before turning his hand to training, where he developed a reputation for being a master handler of sprinters, with the likes of Continent, who won the July Cup and Prix de l'Abbaye in 2002, and Regal Parade, also a dual Group 1 winner, advertising his talents.

Nicholls brought the curtain down on his training career after saddling Sovereign Debt to victory in a domestic Group 2 contest in Qatar in Februay of this year, citing financial troubles.

His death comes less than 24 hours after the same horse continued his remarkable 2017 campaign, now in the care of Ruth Carr, with victory in the Group 3 Diomed Stakes at Epsom.

Paying tribute to his father on Sunday, Adrian Nicholls said many people, including himself, owed much of their career in racing to being given a chance by him and said the outpouring of grief from the industry was a measure of his popularity.

"A lot of people have been on to me already, which just shows what a great person he was," said Nicholls. "He was a good jockey, probably an even better trainer but most of all he was a great dad.

"He was a good man who helped a lot of people get to where they are today. He was always giving someone a chance, the list of them is endless. He gave people the chance to ride for big owners in big races, something you wouldn't normally get. He took chances on horses and took chances on jockeys and knew what he was doing."

Nicholls in his heyday at one of his favourite racetracks, Goodwood

Yorkshire-based Nicholls saddled 1,269 winners as a trainer, two of which came over jumps. Among the races he will be most remembered for winning are the Ayr Gold Cup and Stewards' Cup at Goodwood, having claimed the competitive handicaps six and three times respectively.

"His record speaks for itself with the winners he trained," said Nicholls. "Somebody may end up with a better record with sprinters one day but to me, there will only ever be one sprint king and it was him.

"He was a great dad and a good boss. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have done anything in racing and that's a fact. He helped me through the good and the bad times."

Franny Norton was one of many riders shocked and saddened by the news of the trainer's death and declared he will always remember Nicholls as "a father figure".

The jockey said: "I went to see Dandy in hospital only ten days ago after riding at Catterick – he was in fairly good spirits – and he rang me a couple of days later to say he was out of hospital and we left it like that.

Franny Norton: described Nicholls as a father figure

"It's very, very sad news he has died as we were pals as he gave me a leg up in life after I was at a pretty low ebb at one stage in my career - it would be fair to say he picked me up off the floor.

"We went all over the place together as he was like a father figure to me and took me from strength to strength as he gave me a big nudge along in life."

Looking back at their time together, Norton recalled: "We had a number of successes as jockey and trainer but I suppose one of the biggest was Tax Free in the Abernant Stakes at Newmarket in 2009."

He added: "It's hard for me to call how I feel right now after hearing the news and my condolences go out to his family at this time. I will always treasure my memories of him."

Nicholls enjoyed a successful association with the Lucayan Stud, saddling the one-two in the 2002 July Cup for the owners courtesy of Continent and Bahamian Pirate, as well landing the 2004 Nunthorpe with Bahamian Pirate among other successes.

Henry St George, owner of the stud, said: "He was a brilliant trainer for Lucayan Stud, winning the Nunthorpe, a couple of Ayr Gold Cups, the Abbaye and saddling a one-two in the July Cup. He was a big character but beneath the effervescent exterior was a kind-hearted family man."

Ruth Carr, who saddled Sovereign Debt, Nicholls' last winner before retiring, to win at Epsom on Saturday, said: "It's very sad to see him go so young. David was a hard worker and got where he did as a trainer from nothing.

"He started with just a field and put everything into getting where he did with training and all those good winners."

Owner Marwan Koukash was among those to pay tribute to Nicholls on Twitter on Sunday, writing: "Very sad to hear of the death of Dandy (king of sprints) Nicholls. RIP mate and many thanks for the wonderful memories."

Jockey Tony Hamilton, meanwhile, tweeted: "Saddened to hear the loss of Dandy Nicholls who got me started as an apprentice. RIP."

Former champion jockey and now trainer Richard Hughes added: "Dandy Nicholls RIP. Horse racing has lost a great man and trainer."




Alan Swinbank: trainer enjoyed great success under both codes

Alan Swinbank: trainer enjoyed great success under both codes
By Andrew Dietz 8:08AM, MAY 18 2017

The racing community has been left in shock following the unexpected death of top dual-purpose trainer Alan Swinbank on Wednesday. He was 72.

Swinbank made his mark on the Flat and over jumps during a training career that garnered nearly 800 domestic winners.

He also enjoyed notable success internationally thanks to the exploits of Collier Hill, who won 15 races in eight countries including at the highest level in the Irish St Leger, Canadian International and Hong Kong Vase.

Assistant and partner Sally Haynes said on Thursday: "He was a hard man but he was very fair and hard-working. I know he was an awkward devil at times but he loved his job and was good at it. He always loved horses and had a decent eye for a horse."

Born in Sedgefield, Swinbank came from farming stock and was involved in horses all his life. He had horses in training with the late Arthur Stephenson, and rode and trained in the pointing field.

His first winner as a trainer under rules was The Froddler in a hunter chase at Sedgefield in 1982.

Based in Melsonby, North Yorkshire, 2001 was his first year with a public licence and he became renowned for his ability to transform talented jumps horses into Group performers on the Flat, none more so than Collier Hill.

Bought cheaply by Swinbank, who also acted as a bloodstock agent, the globetrotting star went on to plunder more than £2.3 million in prize-money.

Haynes added: "We had a hell of a time with Collier Hill. He was a fantastic horse and when we started going abroad he loved it - he was like a human being going on his holidays. Alan was always hoping for another Collier Hill, but you have to have a lot go through your hands before you find another like that."

Other stable stars included 2006 Cambridgeshire winner Formal Decree, who was then bought by Godolphin, Turbo Linn, who won a Listed bumper at Aintree in 2007 before going on to land the Group 2 Lancashire Oaks later that year, and popular dual-purpose performer Alfie Flits.

Swinbank was expected to be at York on Wednesday to oversee his runner Busy Street, who finished 13th of 16 in the 1m4f handicap, and there was concern when he did not appear at the track. His final winner proved to be at Hamilton on May 7, when Genres won the 1m3f handicap under Joe Fanning.

Jockey Ben Curtis, who had struck up a profitable partnership with Swinbank in recent years, posted a message on Twitter, which read: "I'm shocked and devastated to hear of the passing of Alan Swinbank. We had some great days together, 50-plus winners and 300-plus rides. I will be forever grateful to him for supporting me when I first arrived in the UK. Condolences to Sally, family and all the team. Rest In Peace Swinny."

Tributes flowed on social media, with many trainers, jockeys and industry figures posting their memories, including Ralph Beckett, who tweeted: "RIP Alan Swinbank. Did the trainers' course with him, and from then on he used to tell folk we were at school together. #topman."

Trainer Jonjo O'Neill‏ tweeted: "Very sad to hear Alan Swinbank has died. A good friend and brilliant trainer. His family are in our thoughts."

Swinbank, who married twice, is survived by sons Julian and AJ, daughter Michelle and four grandchildren.

Funeral details will be released at a later date.